HALIFAX — The annual East Coast seal hunt starts Monday against a backdrop of ongoing trade and court challenges in Europe and renewed claims from animal welfare groups that the 400-year-old industry is dead in the water.
Rebecca Aldworth, executive director of the Canadian wing of Humane Society International, said on Sunday that only 15 boats have signalled their intention to take part in the hunt, which typically focuses on harp seals off the northeast coast of Newfoundland.
With the market for seal products closed in the United States, most of Europe and Russia, the commercial hunt is a shadow of what it once was, largely surviving on subsidies from the Newfoundland and Labrador government in the past few years, Aldworth said.
“From a market perspective, the seal hunt is very much over,” she said in an interview, adding her group will return to the ice floes to document the slaughter.
“Markets around the world have closed … It’s an industry that’s limping along on credit and subsidies.”
However, the federal government has been steadfast in its support of the hunt, insisting it’s a humane, sustainable and an economically viable pursuit that is important to many coastal communities.
Fisheries Minister Gail Shea admitted Sunday that those opposed to the hunt have been effective in shutting down international markets.
“They have been spreading misinformation about the Canadian seal hunt and Canadian seal products for as long as I’ve been in this position,” Shea said in an interview from Vancouver.